Stemming the Tide of Addiction in the Delta

Daisia Stewart wants to make sure that the people around her understand the harmful effects of tobacco. 

“Because as society grows, these manufacturers will continue to add more addictive chemicals to their products,” said the Madison Palmer High School senior. “Our youth, as young as middle school students, are using tobacco and electronic cigarettes. They don’t know the true facts about these e-cigarettes.” 

Likewise, David Trewolla, former state opioid coordinator with the Mississippi Department of Mental Health, has an important message for those tempted by opioids: “You have no idea the damage it will cause in your life. Your family, your job, your finances – it will destroy them all.” 

Helping them deliver their messages are three important programs sponsored and overseen by the Delta Health Alliance (DHA): the Tobacco-Free Coalition project, the Opioid Task Force Initiative, and the STAR program (Systems of Treatment and Rehabilitation). 

TOBACCO CESSATION 

With new funding, this nearly decade-old program is continuing its mission by transitioning from schools into communities in Bolivar, Coahoma, Sunflower, Tallahatchie, Tunica, and Quitman counties. 

“The focus is still on both tobacco prevention and cessation, but more within these communities,” said Leslie Johnson, program director for DHA. “The school activities consist of ensuring tobacco-free, no vaping school signs are posted throughout campuses, and tobacco-free public service announcements will be made at school-related functions.” 

Tobacco coordinators partner with youth groups within communities and perform summer activities with those young people, she said. Coordinators educate youth and encourage them to be the voice of young people in those communities. 

Since its inception, Johnson estimates that more than 1,500 students in K-12 have benefited from the tobacco prevention and cessation program. Statistics reflect the need for such programs in Mississippi. 

• Mississippi’s youth prevalence rates for combustible cigarettes and smokeless tobacco are similar to national averages, with Mississippi ranging from 6.9 percent for current high school smokers to 5.4 percent for current high school smokeless tobacco users. 

• E-cigarette use among youth remains a significant health concern in Mississippi with current rates of use almost doubling from the previous year.

DELTA OPIOID TASKFORCE

DHA’s Opioid Task Force (DOT) Initiative is aimed at reducing addiction and deaths associated with substance use in rural communities of the Delta. Part of that initiative are the Delta Opioid Treatment Network – Rural Rapid Response, a collaborative effort between health and mental health providers, law enforcement and a recovery-oriented system of care; and the DOT Kids and Youth Support, which offers help to children affected by the opioid crisis. 

“By partnering with a wide range of providers, our network will provide access to the resources needed by those impacted by opioids,” said Brooks Ann Gaston, who oversees the program for DHA. “We want to ensure that our program aligns with the state’s plans and efforts.”

DELTA STAR

With an emphasis on alcohol addiction, the STAR program also targets those who live in rural communities. The program is funded by a grant from the U.S. Health Services & Resource Administration, Office of Rural Health Policy. 

So far, more than 70 people have committed to the six-month program to receive counseling services at the Leland Medical Clinic and through the tele-health system at DeSoto Family Counseling Center. The short-term goal is to reach 100 enrollees. 

STAR provides an intense level of therapy and support that includes individual weekly therapy sessions for the first month; counseling or therapy sessions every two weeks in months two and three; monthly group therapy sessions; and recovery and support sessions. 

“The need for this program is so important to the residents of this region,” said program coordinator Shambria Chillis.

Leland Medical Clinic

In a region of the country that historically has been left behind in most every facet of life, playing catch-up can be a slow proposition. But not in the case of the Leland Medical Clinic – a relatively new facility that is changing the healthcare landscape at breakneck speed. 

In less than four years, since community leaders and the Delta Health Alliance (DHA) cut the ribbon on the renovated old city hospital, the clinic has added new services, programs, and equipment seemingly every week. Since May 2016, the clinic has: 

• Undergone a $1.2 million renovation to offer quality healthcare to residents who might otherwise be forced to travel to see a doctor or nurse practitioner. The renovation was made possible by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

• Installed a state-of-the-art, $75,000 x-ray machine, allowing patients to receive results in 15 minutes. 

• Earned PCMC certified-diabetes program status. 

• Opened the Universal Parenting Place (UPP) – a newly renovated wing of the clinic that provides free resources for parents and guardians to build on the emotional well-being of families. The facility was made possible through a $200,000 grant from the Memphis-based ACE Awareness Foundation. 

• Implemented a host of new services for residents, such as the “Getting Healthy” program. Through the clinic, residents have access to a variety of lifestyle programs aimed at keeping residents active and healthier. 

• Begun a much-needed mammography program with a nearly $200,000 mammography machine via a grant funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. More than 1,000 women over 40 now have access to breast cancer screening in their community. Through a partnership with Delta Cotton Belles, we can provide mammograms for women who cannot afford them at reduced costs. 

• Hit the road with a new $320,000 mobile health clinic destined to make a profound difference in a region hindered by a lack of transportation and financial resources. The mobile clinic was funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Lovia Davis, a Leland resident who received medical care at the old city hospital more than 40 years ago, said she no longer worries about her community not offering quality healthcare, especially after the closure of the Leland and Hollandale branches of the Mississippi State Department of Health. 

“This is just such a blessing,” said Davis. “What a beautiful job. Our community can now feel more comfortable knowing they can get good service right here, without having to drive far away.” 

The clinic is a Recognized Patient Centered Medical Home by the National Committee for Quality Assurance. The designation means that the entire clinic staff, as well as patients, work together as a team by focusing on all aspects of patients’ health using enhanced technology and chronic disease management. 

The clinic treats thousands of patients each year with approximately a quarter of those having no health insurance. Twelve percent of patients have been diagnosed with diabetes while more than 21 percent receive care for high-blood pressure. Services provided by the clinic include management of acute and chronic illnesses, psychiatric care, wellness exams and checkups, immunizations, pediatric care, work-injury treatment, drug testing, pre-employment and school physicals, and nutritional services.

Before the clinic opened, Leland resident Dianne Burchfield worried for a time whether residents in her community would have access to even the most basic services. 

“I’ve been here all my life, going to doctors in Leland, and I hoped I’d be able to keep doing that,” said Burchfield. “People outside of the Delta may not understand how important good healthcare can be when you’ve always had it. You can take it for granted. But not us. When the Delta Health Alliance stepped in to bring the old hospital back as a top-notch medical clinic, it was a real blessing.”

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